Asking how Iron Man flies creates an answer informed by science fiction. The flight of Doctor Strange, contrarily, is fueled by literal magic. This odd-ball superhero doesn’t cast spells to lift himself off the ground; he just grabs his trusty Cloak of Levitation. Actually, he’s got two. Wait a minute. Where did he get all these cloaks? If Stephen Strange really is “Sorcerer Supreme” how come he can’t just cast a “make me fly” spell? Here’s a brief primer to understanding the Cloak — or Cloaks — of Doctor Strange.

When there’s too much tragedy involved, superhero origin stories can get a little predictable: from Superman to Batman and even versions of Spider-Man, everyone’s a vengeful little orphan. But Doctor Stephen Strange is refreshingly different: He’s an arrogant and brilliant surgeon who gets into a car accident, and then he gets his magic on. In all versions of Strange’s origin — including 2015’s Doctor Strange: Strange Origin — a mystical figure called the Ancient One hooks Stephen up with two iconic objects which pretty much define the character: the Eye of Agamotto and the Cloak of Levitation.

The Eye of Agamotto is basically an amulet Doctor Strange wears around his neck which allows him to occasionally tap into powers belonging to a mystical being called “Agamotto.” The Agamotto is one three Vishanti, which collectively are kind of like Stephen Strange’s versions of the father, the son, and the holy ghost. And even though Doctor Strange wears the Eye of Agamotto in tandem with the Cloak of Levitation, the two are unrelated and have different origins.

The seldom-seen 'blue cloak.'
The seldom-seen 'blue cloak.'

Because the world of Stephen Strange is the world of magic, a lot of items and artifacts have “ancient” and hazily half-explained beginnings. In fact, even though Doctor Strange first appeared in 1951, his cloak wasn’t given a specific origin story. It’s also relevant to note that in this first adventure and other early stories, it was blue and not red. Like many Marvel heroes, Strange was created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, but the “look” of Strange is more attributed to Ditko. Why was the cloak blue first and then later, red? Officially, there’s not a good answer, but it is a totally different Cloak of Levitation than the red one Strange normally rocks. Perhaps he got an upgrade after being a really supremes sorcerer for awhile?

The first appearance of Doctor Strange in 'Strange Tales' #110 in 1951.
The first appearance of Doctor Strange in 'Strange Tales' #110 in 1951.

In a 1985-1986 storyline, Doctor Strange has his red cloak severely damaged in a battle with a villain called Khat. In issue #78 called “Cloaks and Dangers!” Stephen Strange is really distraught over how to repair his cloak, admitting to himself he doesn’t know jack-diddly about how to fix this super-important magical garment saying “The worst ignorance is always the ignorance you haven’t been aware of … I find myself realizing that I know so very, very little.”

To fix the cloak, Doctor Strange seeks out a little dinosaur-looking dude named Enitharmon, referred to as a “weaver of mysteries.” Enitharmon behaves like a regular tailor and agrees to fix the ripped-up red cloak, basically for free. After that, Doctor Strange is sucked into a whole bunch of other adventures while his cloak is basically in the shop. Meaning, for several issues, he can’t fly.

He does not actually get a new cloak in this issue. It's a play on words.
He does not actually get a new cloak in this issue. It's a play on words.

Several issues later, in Doctor Strange #81, we meet a horned-green alligator monster wearing the Cloak of Levitation and driving a spaceship while a cloak-less Doctor Strange is asleep in a capsule. What has happened? Has this horned-alligator stolen the cloak and kidnapped Doctor Strange? Don’t worry: In a flashback we quickly learn the horned alligator is named Rintrah and he’s the apprentice of Enitharmon, the tailor. He swooped in during a tense moment and brought back the cloak which is totally fixed now.

At this point, Doctor Strange had undergone some pretty hefty surgery and was existing almost exclusively as an astral spirit. He even briefly got into the body of his friend Morganna, which created a female Doctor Strange in her body. Obviously, he’s Doctor Strange, so hanging out in the body of Rintrah — a horned alligator thing — made more sense than occupying the body of another one of his friends. So, just as he put his cloak in the shop for awhile, Doctor Strange also briefly puts his body on ice to heal while coexisting in the body of Rintrah. This guy doesn’t seem to mind at all by the way. People love it when Doctor Strange possesses their body for the good of the whole world.

Doctor Strange in Rintrah's body
Doctor Strange in Rintrah's body

Eventually, Rintrah was considered cool enough to be given his own cloak, and by 1992, got the blue cloak and wore it has his very own. Why Doctor Strange didn’t rock the blue cloak while the red was was broken is still unclear.

Still, the craziest thing that’s ever happened to the Cloak of Levitation is easily when it became the size of the entire solar system thanks some mumbo-jumbo created by Adam Warlock. Why in the world a levitating cloak would be of use in outer space is questionable, but Adam Warlock was a totally insane villain.

Marvel
Marvel

Throughout the entire comics history Doctor Strange, the character occasionally will have totally different Cloaks of Levitation, sometimes bearing no resemblance to the iconic red one or the seldom-seen blue one. While hardcore fans might point out there could be an untold number of Cloaks of Levitation, most of the stories establish just those two: blue and red.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange is set to don the red cloak in the forthcoming new movie. Will we get any references to Enitharmon or Rintrah? Maybe even a shout-out to the blue cloak? And if not in this film, then perhaps a future Doctor Strange movie could focus mostly on how Stephen gets dressed everyday. With all the magical garments and crazy space-tailors, a series of movies about the Cloak(s) of Levitation could be legitimately awesome.

Photos via Marvel Wiki, Wikipedia, Marvel, Marvel.com

Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Inverse. He is the author of the essay collection Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths (Plume/Penguin Random House 2015). His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, VICE, The Morning News, The Awl, Clarkesworld, BN Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Tor.com, and elsewhere. He lives in New York City.